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Thursday, January 04, 2007

Hall of Shame Inductee - LabCorp

Kathryn Ball 6293 originally uploaded by Yanov.
Are you shocked when you encounter lousy consumer experiences? I am. But, I also see them as amazing learning opportunities.

Every encounter is a source of ideas --as you can read in How To Achieve An Inspired Environment -- to capture or avoid in the environment you create. Encounters in banks, supermarkets, even car dealerships [see Audi's Human Element]. But, what about medical ones? Do you wonder how they could be better? I do.

Let's start with simple efficiencies... Why is it that the same information has to be reentered on the same forms at every first visit? What if we all maintained our own master document [on a common template] that could simply be printed out or emailed [!] for each visit? Take this to the retail level and imagine how frustrated consumers get when they have to repeat the same information over and over again. Isn't there a way to capture that information, and then refer to it throughout the relationship? Websites like Amazon have figured this out. They even build on the information!

Next, simple courtesies... Why is it that when I enter a doctor's office, more often than not, I'll come face-to-face with someone who scowls at me or ignores me as I stand stupidly at the glass window waiting to be 'processed'. Greet me. Welcome me. Direct me so I do what you need me to do! I'm entering your environment; you are my host. So, act like it.

What about creating an engaging environment... Why is it that waiting rooms are soooo boring? At least most kids' medical offices have toys. I'm so grateful for waiting rooms with frequently updated decor, showcasing local artists perhaps, or offering a variety of current and non-abused reading materials, maybe even some free samples. If you apply this a retail environment, make sure you offer chairs and tables, too! Have a kid-friendly area, and some current and appropriate reading material available in case your [woman] consumer comes in with her other constituents! And, get rid of any clutter.

Communicating... Why is it that there is so little effort to introduce oneself? To consider the patient [i.e., consumer] as a human being and not just a 'specimen'? And when there are delays, why won't anyone tell me what's going on? Take charge of the communication. Build relationship with your customers by communicating with them. Use every opportunity to make them feel involved. And, then, follow-up!

Enough with the generalizations. Here's a real life consumer experience.

My health insurance company has just changed its policy for labwork associated with my daughter's pediatrician. So, instead of being able to take care of the 2 routine lab tests during her annual examination, we now have to go to the local LabCorp office. It's not too far away [5 or 6 miles] and requires no appointment. Definitely an annoyance, but manageable.

When we get there the totally bland waiting room is a mad house - kids screaming, unhappy-looking adults. The chairs are arranged to maximize seating. No reading materials. No toys. Nothing on the wall except for a flat screen TV displaying mini-educational dramas with medical messages. [From a marketing to women perspective, they are fascinating in that they show women at a picnic interacting to talk about medical situations. These consumers credibly express empathy and share information. However, they are too full of statistics to be realistic ["75% of gonorrea infections go undetected"], and the programs go on and on and on.] I'm grateful that my daughter doesn't understand what is being discussed.... Some sensitivity to the makeup of the audience might be a really good idea -- this location is listed as a pediatric facility -- as would some acknowledgement that people forced to sit in crammed quarters for an extended period of time might not appreciate being force-fed information because someone has determined that it is for their own good - whether it is relevant or not!

No one at the glass window. I see lots of hand-written signs festooning the window directing me to sign in and sit down - and fill out another form. From a distance, I see a person and ask what the wait time is. "Two hours" she snaps. That is CRITICAL information! I have to keep my child busy for 2 hours. So why isn't there more of an effort to communicate?

We go back to the car to eat our Wendy's lunch and return 45 minutes later. NOTHING has changed. Seems that some of the lab folks might have gone out for lunch break- says the woman next to me who arrived 45 minutes before us. We wait some more, and then hear a name called out from the back. Imagine: a disembodied voice calling a first name. We assume she is calling out to a co-worker. After a bit a person appears and calls out a full name. Aha! Someone stands up and gets processed. The machinery starts up. Now, don' t you think that using a full name to begin with would not only have been more respectful, but also a more efficient way to process people?

It's finally our turn. We are told to go 'over there' to a kids' room. [Big no-no in the retail world. You walk your customer to where they need to go, right?] We sit in the kids' room for a while and finally a technician comes to get a blood sample. Nice enough woman - she has a daughter close in age to mine. She starts prepping and my daughter realizes that this will be a different experience compared to her previous ones: no prick of the finger, but rather a NEEDLE and syringue in her arm. She starts screaming. I calm her; she sits in my lap; I help immobilize her arm. More screaming. Guess what the technician tells her? "Little girl, other people are waiting for me and I don't have all day". Nice customer service touch, don't you think? Amazingly, she gets the needle in and my daughter laughingly exclaims "squirt, squirt" as she sees her blood flow into the syringue, relieved to have this over with.

We survived our experience no thanks to LabCorp. Imagine what a few small touches -- as Becky Carroll from Customers Rock! describes in It's the Little Things That Make The Difference -- could have done to make it a whole lot better. Imagine if the human element [see Retail Experience and the Human Element] in particular were improved? Maybe a few more people to handle the crowds; maybe some training on how to show respect when addressing people; maybe some kid training? And get rid of the TV with the mini-educational dramas!

As patient-consumers, we don't have as many options as we do in the retail world. We are held captive by our insurance carriers, our primary care providers, our medical relationships.... We can certainly change some aspects, but it takes effort [more forms to fill out; identifying alternate options] and time. However, many medical providers have started focusing on the overall experience of their customers. They realize that repeat business and word-of-mouth endorsements matter - as they do in retail!

Which makes LabCorp's poor and insensitive service even more unacceptable and its force-feeding of medical marketing messages intolerable. Consequently, I induct LabCorp into David Meerman Scott's Interruption Marketing Hall of Shame.

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